The co-location situation

Moskowitz and charter allies prepare to take their public fight statewide

In sharp contrast to the collaborative strategy drawn up last week by some charter school leaders, Success Academy CEO Eva Moskowitz and her allies are preparing for a public battle as they anticipate unfavorable decisions from the de Blasio administration.

The fight includes a newly unveiled public relations campaign, a quickly evolving lobbying strategy, and preparation for potential legal action. While the past few months of protests and rallies have focused on influencing City Hall, the new efforts (and a rally next Tuesday) will target state lawmakers.

“It has become clear that we must turn to Albany for the leadership to save our schools and protect our scholars’ right to a meaningful, high-quality education,” Moskowitz told the board members of her network’s 22 schools this morning in an email obtained by Chalkbeat.

On their minds is the status of dozens of co-location plans, many of which include new charter schools, that were approved last year. Mayor Bill de Blasio has pledged to review each of those proposals and decisions are expected to be released soon.

But Moskowitz is already assuming it won’t be good news for at least some of the 10 schools that Success had gotten approval to open next year. If the lobbying tactics don’t work, she said, she will sue.

“Despite our repeated efforts to reach out to this administration, we expect to hear announcements in the next two weeks that a few of our approved schools will not be allowed to open or grow,” Moskowitz said in the email. “As soon as these rollbacks/reversals are announced, we will notify you and plan to take the appropriate legal action.”

The nonprofit advocacy organization Families for Excellent Schools, which works closely with parents of Success and other charter schools, also announced today that it is paying for a series of multi-million dollar broadcast commercials.

FES is also organizing a large rally in Albany next week with the aim of convincing state lawmakers to offer more support for charter schools. Organizers said they expect 2,000 parents and advocates to attend.

Success Academy, as it has done in the past, will bring some of its 22-school network’s 6,700 students. “Buses will be loaded by grade, and we will teach lessons in Civics while on the road,” Moskowitz said in the email.

This week’s developments come just days after Moskowitz and other charter leaders met with Chancellor Carmen Fariña, but learned nothing about de Blasio’s plans for next year’s co-locations.

Moskowitz is now taking a much different tone than the leaders of 27 other charter schools, who said ahead of the meeting that they wanted to forge a working relationship with de Blasio and Fariña. That group is mostly made up of independent charter schools, some of which are unionized, that have partnerships with community-based organizations.

This is just the latest clash between Moskowitz and de Blasio, who have been at odds on education since their days in the City Council. Their interests have collided since de Blasio won the mayoral election after pledging to “stop” the Success network, which opened in 2006 and thrived under the Bloomberg administration.

While students in Success schools regularly outscore both charter and district schools on state tests, de Blasio has repeatedly raised questions about whether Success enrolls as many low-performing and high-need students as nearby district schools. Other critics have said that some charter schools, including Success, don’t do a good enough job “back filling” empty seats with new students.

Amid de Blasio’s criticism, the rally is another sign that charter school supporters now believe Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the state legislature are their most important allies. Recent campaign filings show that Cuomo’s reelection campaign has received nearly $800,000 from Success board members and other charter school funders.

The decisions about next year’s co-location plans are in de Blasio’s and Fariña’s hands. But Bill Phillips, president of the Northeast Charter Schools Association, said there are several ways that legislative action could help charter schools, starting with extra funding in the budget, which will be negotiated over the next month.  

“Conversations are going on that look at all the possible ways to make sure that charters continue to flourish and that the 90,000 kids they serve continue to have a choice of a great public school,” Phillips said.
Here’s Moskowitz’s full email:

Board members,

I want to update you and share news of decisive action we are taking to protect our schools. As you know from our meetings and the press clips we have shared, the mayor continues to play politics with our scholars’ futures. This is unacceptable. Despite our repeated efforts to reach out to this administration, we expect to hear announcements in the next two weeks that a few of our approved schools will not be allowed to open or grow. This would be tragic, unfair, and we believe, illegal. As soon as those rollbacks/reversals are announced, we will notify you and plan to take the appropriate legal action. Read today’s editorial in the New York Post, “Opting for Failure.” 

It has become clear that we must turn to Albany for the leadership to save our schools and protect our scholars’ right to a meaningful, high-quality education. On Tuesday, March 4, Success Academy will be joining with charter parents across the city for a PARENT RALLY IN ALBANY.  

Even though our schools will be closed for the rally, we plan to take Success Academy on the road! Buses will be loaded by grade, and we will teach lessons in Civics while on the road. The march and rally at the Capitol will start around mid-day. Parents, teachers, and community leaders will speak and we will deliver letters to our elected officials. It will be a critical moment for Success Academy.

WHAT YOU CAN DO

Participate. Come to the rally! Email Kathleen (REDACTED) if you are able to attend.

Stay informed. Join me for an early morning call this Friday, February 28 at 7:30 am. I can answer any questions you may have about the rollbacks, the rally, and other advocacy and communications efforts. Look out for a calendar invite.

Spread the word. Families for Excellent Schools (FES) has launched a new advocacy campaign at www.ChartersWork.org. They will be airing this ad in support of NYC charters and educational choice, starting today. Please share it widely, using #ChartersWork.

Thank you for your leadership and support.

Warmly,

Eva

father knows best

How a brush with death convinced one dad to get his diploma, with a boost from the Fatherhood Academy

PHOTO: Courtesy of Steven Robles
Steven Robles with his family

Steven Robles thought he might not live to see his daughter’s birth.

In May 2016, the 20-year-old was in the hospital after being shot during what he described as an argument in his neighborhood.

A year later, Robles just graduated from City University of New York’s Fatherhood Academy. He passed his high school equivalency exam and is happily celebrating his daughter Avare’s 8-month birthday.

“That conflict is what got me into the program, and what happened to me before she was born motivated me to stay in the program,” Robles said. “It motivated me to manage to pass my GED.”

Robles grew up in Brownsville, Brooklyn and attended Franklin K. Lane High School. Though he liked his teachers, Robles said other students at the school were not “mature enough,” and the disorderly school environment made it hard for him to concentrate.

A quiet student, Robles said teachers would often overlook his presence in the classroom. Between that and friction with other classmates, Robles lost interest in school.

“My parents didn’t try to help me, either,” Robles said. “Nobody really tried to help me with that school, so I just stopped going.”

It was a whole different experience for him once he arrived at the Fatherhood Academy at LaGuardia Community College, a program run by CUNY for unemployed and underemployed fathers ages 18 through 28. The Academy, now partnering with the New York City Housing Authority at its LaGuardia location, was launched in 2012 and also has programs at Hostos and Kingsborough Community Colleges.

“I have interviewed many of the men who come into the program and I often ask the question, ‘What brought you here?'” said Raheem Brooks, program manager of the Fatherhood Academy at LaGuardia Community College. “Mostly every young man says, ‘I’m here because I want to create a better life for my child than I had.’ So, I think the main theme of the program is that we help promote intergenerational change.”

At the LaGuardia branch, 30 students attend classes three times a week over the course of 16 weeks. Subjects include mathematics, social studies, and writing for students seeking to get their high school equivalency diplomas. Students also attend workshops run by counselors who guide them in professional development and parenting.

Robles found out about the program after seeing a flier for it in his social worker’s office at Graham Windham, a family support services organization. Curious to see what the Academy offered, he called to find out more and officially enrolled after passing a test to prove he could read above seventh-grade level.

“Before the Academy, I was not really into school at all,” Robles said. “But when I got there, it just changed my life. In this program, I didn’t know anybody there, there were no distractions. It made me more focused, and I just really wanted to get my GED and education.”

What helped Robles the most was getting to learn from the other fathers in the class, who were going through similar experiences as him.

“Little things I didn’t know, I learned from them because they were also fathers,” Robles said. “I just liked the way they were teaching us.”

In fact, he liked the Academy so much, he doesn’t plan to leave. He is applying to study criminal justice at LaGuardia Community College and to become a mentor for the Academy next year.

Currently, Robles lives with his grandparents, his daughter and the mother of his child. Getting a place for his family is next on his to-do list, he said.

“Avare always has a smile on her face and always puts a smile on my face,” Robles said. “She motivates me to get up and do what I have to do. Anything I could do for her, I will.”

Though school did not play a huge role in his life growing up, that is not what Robles wants for his daughter. He said after participating in the Academy, he wants to make sure Avare stays motivated and in school.

“I hear a lot from people about how they think they can’t do it,” Robles said. “I almost lost my life before my daughter was born and that motivated me. If I could do it, you could do it.”

Behind the brawl

Three things to know about the Tennessee school behind this week’s graduation brawl

PHOTO: Arlington Community Schools
Arlington High School is a 2,000-plus-student school in suburban Shelby County in southwest Tennessee.

Arlington High School is considered the crown jewel of a 3-year-old district in suburban Shelby County, even as its school community deals with the unwelcome attention of several viral videos showing a fight that broke out among adults attending its graduation ceremony.

The brawl, which reportedly began with a dispute over saved seats, detracted from Tuesday’s pomp and circumstance and the more than $30 million in scholarships earned by the school’s Class of 2017. No students were involved.

“It was unfortunate that a couple of adults in the audience exhibited the behavior they did prior to the ceremony beginning and thus has caused a distraction from the celebration of our students’ accomplishments,” Arlington Community Schools Superintendent Tammy Mason said in a statement.

Here are three things to know about the 13-year-old school in northwest Shelby County.

With more than 2,000 students, Arlington is one of the largest high schools in Shelby County and is part of a relatively new district.

It’s the pride of a suburban municipality that is one of six that seceded from Shelby County Schools in 2014 following the merger of the city and county districts the year before. (School district secessions are a national trend, usually of predominantly white communities leaving predominantly black urban school systems.) More than 70 percent of Arlington’s students are white, and 6 percent are considered economically disadvantaged — in stark contrast to the Memphis district where less than 8 percent are white, and almost 60 percent are considered economically disadvantaged.

The school’s graduation rate is high … and climbing.

Last year, after adding interventions for struggling students, the school’s graduation rate jumped a full point to more than 96 percent. Its students taking the ACT college entrance exam scored an average composite of 22.5 out of a possible 36, higher than the state average of 19.9. But only a fifth scored proficient or advanced in math and a third in English language arts during 2015-16, the last school year for which scores are available and a transition year for Tennessee under a new test.

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Education Commissioner Candice McQueen visits with students at Arlington High School during a 2016 tour.

The school was in the news last August when Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen visited its campus.

The commissioner spoke with students there to kick off her statewide listening tour that’s focused on ways to get students ready for college and career. McQueen highlighted the school’s extracurricular activities and students’  opportunities to intern for or shadow local professionals. She also complimented Arlington for having an engaged education community.